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1950 El Dorado Triumph

Words & Photos: Paul Garson

How’s your luck?

What better way to test it than dropping a few quarters on a raffle ticket that could bring you a free motorcycle? In fact, make that a nickel-plated Triumph classic given the full custom treatment. Doing just that was made possible thanks to  the Venice Vintage
Motorcycle Club, aka VVMC, as part of the festivities celebrating their 10th Annual Rally and Bike Show. The show took place in Los Angeles-adjacent Venice, CA, of course.

VVMC Club Members, including current club officers Jeff Verges, Dayne Ashbaugh, Eddie Nicholas and Mel Clemens gather for the El Dorado Triumph Raffle Drawing.

Back in 2007, when they couldn’t find a decent bike party in their hometown area, four Venice Beach vintage bike fans put together the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club: Shannon Sweeney, Jeff Verges, Hunter Knight and Patrick Dunn-Baker.

Says Shannon, “Here in the Venice area we had a bunch of bike shops but no local activity, so we brought this event together so everyone could network. It’s a chance to meet other creative-minded people, to ride bikes and have some interesting bike and art community conversation. And we did it so that it encompasses all motorcycles; everybody's welcome.”

The VVMC – Who Are Those Guys?

O.G. Vintage Venice Motorcycle Club Members

This photo goes back some ten years, to when the club was just ramping up to speed, members riding a variety of Brit, Euro, Japanese and American iron… All makes and models welcome as long as they were vintage.

The first VVMC rally and bike show was staged in 2007 and was an instant success, so plans were set in motion to schedule more events, the latest and greatest 10th annual rally transpiring this past Saturday September 16, 2017. Over the last decade, the rally has continued to grow in popularity, attendence and quality and diversity of its showcased motorcycles… Vintage, classic, custom, café racer, radical, you name it. At the last several rallies, a one-off custom bike has been given away to some lucky raffle entrant.

Case in point: this legally California titled 1950 Triumph, given the name “El Dorado” after the fabled city of gold the Conquistadors searched for back before California was on the map. They never found it, but the name stuck.

Regarding the idea that “not all that glitters is gold" - in addition to its golden bodywork color, all those glimmering surfaces are not chromed; in fact there’s not a drop of that stuff to be found. Instead there’s a widespread treatment in warm, lustrous nickel plating, something bike builders a hundred years ago were fond of using.

The team that built El Dorado consists of VVMC members Farin Hoover and his friend Matt Rowe, both also playing in a band together. We spoke with Farin to get the build details and learned that he’s actually from Akron, Ohio, and now developing his career in SoCal as a audio enginer working on commercials. He’s a young professional working in the creative arena, as are many of the members of the VVMC. Also, it turns out that his first street bike, which he restored, is a 1971 Honda 500-4 previously owned by his grandfather. The bike was shipped to L.A. from Ohio. It also turns out that his grandfather, who worked for Goodyear, was literally the guy who cast the race tires for the legendary Bobby Unser when he won the 1975 Indy 500.

While Farin has wrenched on a number of bikes, he’s quick to credit Doug Stedman, who previously built raffle bikes for the VVMC events, for all his guidance in getting them up to speed to tackle the new build. He also gives a shout-out to “El Capitan” Shannon Sweeney, one of the VVMC’s OGs and a nationally recognized bike builder. More salutes go to Julian at Deus ex Machina. The Venice establishment is a longtime VVMC sponsor, and Julian himself is a major Triumph fan.

Even the wheel rims were dechromed and then nickel plated for good measure.

Says Farin, “The reason we wanted to try a Triumph is because the company had just come out with their new take on a hardtail bobber, so we thought, hey, let’s build a real bobber, in fact a pre-unit one. We found a guy in Long Beach who had a Triumph with ’50 parts bolted on a ’59 frame. A bit leaky and crusty, but we felt it had a basically solid frame and motor, so we bought it and started tearing it down last February. The project kinda took on its own life at this point… going far beyond our initial plans, and dealing with challenges we couldn’t predict when you’re first dealing with an old pre-unit. But we went the full nine yards, and I guess you could say, for a mix of pain and pleasure.”

He laughs and adds, “Matt and I decided when we first started that if we messed up big time, we’d just go to the rally and raffle off a box of shiny, cool parts.”

Things started heating up after Farin and Mike cut the frame, which had come with a four inch stretch and a two-inch drop, plus a 16-inch wheel in the rear. They decided to graft on a new rear section made with a two-inch stretch, two-inch drop and 18-inch wheel to
bring everything tucked up together for a more aggressive stance. Then the VVMC rally sponsors kicked in to help, like Lucky Wheels Garage in L.A., which handcrafted the custom oil tank that prompted a ton of scratch built mounting brackets, the motor and everything else that went into the build - all of which transpired at Matt Rowe’s house in Venice.

What, no mufflers? Like they say, loud pipes save lives if not the eardrums. New owner can add silencers of their choice.

The 1950 issue 650cc 6T Triumph vertical twin motor, bored .80 as part of the full makeover by pre-unit guru Wes White at Four Aces Cycle , also spins a stouter ‘60s Triumph crank, all fed by a single stock Amal 900, the fuel housed within a new retro Triumph ‘68-70s style gas tank.

Trimming the weight of a battery, the kick-start only bike runs off a Triumph mag-dyno, rebuilt with help by Bob Gregor from Moto Classic Garage (Inglewood, CA). The electrical system was upgraded from the stock 6V to 12 via a solid state regulator hidden under the tank in order to run brighter lights, especially the trick LED taillight Farin and Matt wanted to integrate into the rear taillight, and which snorkels up off the rear fender behind their hand fabbed mini-sissy bar. That’s also nickel-plated, along with the T140 model handlebars sourced out of North Carolina Factory Metal Works, another VVMC rally sponsor who also contributed the levers and grips as well as the aforementioned frame’s hardtail section. The list of components brought into the build also includes a new clutch packet, new wheel sprockets, shortened and resprung fork springs and stainless spokes set in nickeled MK I rims wrapped with a 21-inch Allstate Safety Stripe tire up front, an 18 inch Allstate Dirtman on the rear.

As stated, there’s not a drop of chrome on the bike. The nickel plating was handled by Supeme Plating in Inglewood, that part of the build sponsored by Triumph of L.A. There are also some shiny polished pieces, including the primary cover, rockers and cam cover plus a couple polished brass accents like the vintage auto auxilliary lamp repurposed into the bike’s headlight. The nickel plating extands to the bars, the forks, even the exhaust’s stock header pipes and the seat springs beneath the vintage Bates style saddle upholstered by theVirginia based Rivers Seat Company, another VVMC sponsor. “Yeah, we went all over the place for this bike,” laughs Farin.

As far as paint, like chrome, don’t look for it. The bike benefits from top class powder coating, courtesy of Safe Way Sandblaster and Powdercoating in Culver City, another of the bike build’s sponsor. Says Farin, “That two-tone golden color they helped us choose is called Illusion Dorado, which turned into the inspiration for the personality of the bike, Matt and I had always wanted to build something like an old desert racer.” The icing on the golden cake, so to speak, was the pinstriping and brass goldleaf artwork created by L.A. artist Sonny Boy, whose work has been commissioned by Roland Sands, Powerplant Choppers and Heroes Motorcycles, among others.

One of few the non-nickel plated pieces was a vintage brass auto headlamp that polished up nicely.

Up on a Pedestal and Rightly So

El Dorado is flanked by co-builers Matt Rowe (left) and Farin Hoover.

Summing it up, Farin says, “The bike was supposed to be finished in August, but we worked on it up until the last minute - just in time for the rally, but we got El Dorado up and running, looking forward to  meeting its winner since someone would be taking home the gold.”

Final Test Run

VVMC member takes the final putt before turning El Dorado over to new owner.

Preparing to gift wrap the raffle bike, VVMC member Gabriel gives a helping hand.

The raffle sales proceeds go toward the rally expenses and also to this year’s charity, the Ride for Children’s Pediatric Brain Tumor foundation. On the big day, the ticket was drawn with entries from all over the U.S. and several other countries. The lucky winner turned out to be an L.A. area resident, Tom Woods, who added even more luster to the tale of the El Dorado. It seems there really is gold in them thar Venice hills.

And the Winners Are...

Tom and his 11-year son both greatly enjoy dirt bike riding, and when they heard about the VVMC event they wanted to check out the classic machines; so hopped on their bicycles (yes, bicycles) and rode to the Venice event in progress. They ambled around the bikes on display and in the process Tom decided to buy a raffle ticket to support the event’s charity; then he and Will popped back on their bicycles and rode home, where a couple hours later Tom got a phone announcing his winning raffle number. He returned to the event to claim his gold.

Says Tom, “It was definitely a Wow! moment for both myself and my son. And then we thought about it for a while and decided what we wanted to do was put the bike up for sale or auction where, all the money raised would go to the VVMC’s charity, the Children’s Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Now we're trying to garner some interest from a celebrity or organization where we can make the sale or auction happen. Any help is appreciated, and if anyone wants to help make it happen, please contact the VVMC.”

Talk about a story with a silver, make that golden lining - looks like the raffle bike was won by just the right people. If you’ve got an interest in the benefit project, contact the VVMC via

Previous VVMC raffle bikes include Japanese, American and British classics. A new raffle bike is already being contemplated in preparation for the 11th Annual VVMC Rally. Save up your nickels now for those raffle tickets.

2016 VVMC Raffle Bike – 1960 Harley-Davidson Sportster Bike was built by veteran wrench and VVMC member Doug Stedman.

Kickin’ It

In this case, the lucky winner was a young lady who then handed the keys to her boyfriend Ricky. He was one happy camper who added his own personal touches.

2013 Raffle Bike – Honda CB165cc Café Racer

Seen here on display at the Deus ex Machina shop in Venice, the bike magnet focusing on the SoCal life-style of surfing, cool motorcycles and cool bike gear - plus, they serve great coffee and baked goods. Deus has also been a long-time sponsor of the VVMC events.

Pretty from Any Angle

This bike was meticulously crafted by vintage Honda builder Shannon Sweeney, one of the founding members of the VVMC. In this case, the winning raffle ticket that scored the Honda belonged to Travis Moss, who had made the trip from Bakersfield, CA to L.A. to attend the event in person - definitely his lucky day.